Applying to college and selecting a school can be a stressful proposition for any high school student—and when that student is the first person in the family to go to college, navigating that dream, and the thousands of decisions it entails, can be downright daunting.
But when New York City high school senior Taylor Hill, the first person in her family to attend a four-year school, went on her first round of college visits this spring, she felt confident and secure—from her SAT scores, to her scholarship applications, right down to her choice of shower shoes—in every step she took.
That's because Hill didn't have to walk that road alone. Her mentor Jazmine Armijo, of Ernst & Young LLP's College MAP (Mentoring for Access and Persistence) program, walked it with her, every step of the way.
"I always had a passion to go to college and get my four-year degree, but having Jazmine as a mentor was a great help. She was a great stability and a comfort to me when I was applying for college," Hill said. "She gave me one-on-one attention, guided me through the application process, and opened my eyes to opportunities and scholarships I wouldn't have known existed if it weren't for the College MAP program. She definitely opened more doors for me."
This year, Hill was just one of 560 high school juniors and seniors from underserved communities throughout the country who learned to see college as a very real, very achievable goal thanks to EY's College MAP program.
Cosponsored by the nonprofit College for Every Student (CFES) organization, College MAP is a formal mentoring program for underserved students, designed to demystify the process of applying to and paying for college.
Launched in 2009, College MAP encourages low income students who might not have considered applying to college to do so by matching teams of EY mentors, like Armijo, with groups of high school students for monthly sessions focused on accessing higher education.
Mentors instill in students the lifelong benefits of higher education, help them navigate the college application and financial aid process, familiarize them with campus life, and teach the study and persistence skills necessary for long-term success.
Program organizers say the students are a diverse group. They come from 23 different cities, including Chicago, San Jose, New York, Boston, and Denver. Many are first- or second-generation Americans. Numerous students are the first in their families to attend college. Some have endured personal hardships. All require financial aid to complete their education.
To date, more than 850 high school seniors from across the United States have successfully completed the two-year College MAP program, and the program is expanding quickly to help others achieve their dream. (See Sidebar.)
Deborah Holmes, EY Americas director of corporate responsibility, said that in addition to helping students, the program was "critically important to the businesses that rely on a highly skilled workforce. By educating tomorrow's workforce, we're helping ensure that the skills and characteristics required to enable businesses and societies to thrive are available."
If College MAP's success is measured in terms of the number of mentees who successfully enroll in college, there is little doubt the program is making a marked difference for participants.
"College MAP has had a profound influence on these students, with more than 90 percent of students who have participated in College MAP accepted and enrolled at a two- or four-year institution," Holmes said. "For the students, the experience is transformative."
The program is also widely embraced by the EY community, Holmes said—perhaps no surprise given the fact that nearly one-third of all EY employees are the first in their families to graduate from college. "They bring a unique passion to helping the next generation of students become college-ready," Holmes said.
That was certainly the case for Armijo, a manager in EY's Financial Services Office—Tax, who jumped at the chance to mentor as way to pass along the passion for education her parents instilled in her, and "pay forward" the community support and scholarships that helped her earn her degree.
"I received a lot of support from my high school and my community to make the transition to college, so when I learned that EY provided the chance to mentor students I knew it was my chance to step forward," Armijo said.
Armijo said she is beyond proud to see her see her mentees, including Hill, grow from the tentative high school students she helped research scholarship opportunities in their NYC classrooms to the independent and confident young men and women taking their first steps on their prospective college campuses.
From the profound—seeing her mentees learn classroom and boardroom etiquette and success strategies— to the everyday—explaining the temperature mode on laundry cycles— Armijo said it has been incredibly fulfilling to see her mentees pass through every stage of their journey.
"Walking with Taylor on campus, I feel like I was witnessing her epiphany; her aha moment," Armijo said. "It was special to just sit back and see her realize 'It's 'really happening for me. I'm going away to the school.' It was incredibly rewarding to see her become her own person; to claim her own maturity; to see what she's gone through on her journey. I'm proud I was able to support her and share that with her."
Both Armijo and Hill, who plans to major in either elementary education or social work, say they know it's a journey many students may not have completed if it weren't for the College MAP program.
"Many low-income students, or first-generation college students, never have the chance to learn about the process of applying to college or the opportunities available to them because no one in their family has gone before them, and the one person who can help them, their high school counselor, often doesn't have the time to give them the individual attention they need to succeed," Armijo said.
But the College Map mentors, Armijo said, with the individual attention they give each student, and their ability to serve as role models, can open a whole new world of possibility, not just for these students, but for their entire families.
"When you open the door for the first person in the family to go to college, you open the door for everyone else that comes after them. It's the ice breaker," Armijo said. "The first person to go to college sets that bar for everyone else that comes after them. It just evolves from there."